WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The Environmental Protection Agency announced new mercury and air toxics standards -- the first national standards related to power plant emissions.

But, critics say there will be harsh economic consequences of the new regulations, which target coal-fired electric power plants.

According to the EPA announcement from Wednesday, the new standards will slash emissions of arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide by relying on pollution controls that are already in use at more than half of the nation's coal-fired power plants.

"By cutting emissions that are linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses like asthma, these standards represent a major victory for clean air and public health- and especially for the health of our children," the announcement stated.

It estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, the American public will see up to $9 in health benefits. The total health and economic benefits of this standard are estimated to be as much as $90 billion annually, according to the EPA.

The EPA claims that the MACT and the final Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which was issued earlier this year, are the most significant steps to clean up pollution from power plant smokestacks since the Acid Rain Program of the 1990s.

But Tom Borelli, director of the Free Enterprise Project of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a non-profit think-tank, says the plan will make for higher electricity prices.

"Coming with a price tag of about $11 billion/year, EPA's Utility MACT rule is the most expensive regulation issued by the agency on utilities," Borelli said.

"The huge costs will be passed on to hardworking American families, small businesses and the manufacturing sector. The consequences of the EPA's war on coal will result in double digit electricity price increases and millions of job losses."

According to Borelli, coal powers about 45 percent of the nation's electricity. A study conducted by NERA Economic Consulting on the impact of the MACT and the Cross State Air Rule found these regulations will cause a loss of 1.4 million job-years by 2020 and increase electricity prices up to 24 percent.

Electricity price increases are being reported nationwide as a result of the EPA's actions.

Duke Energy, in North Carolina, is seeking 14 and 17 percent rate increases for households and business respectively, Borelli noted.

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